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Letter to Prime Minister Harper on the case of Bashir Makhtal

    February 04, 2015

    The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
    Prime Minister of Canada
    Office of the Prime Minister
    80 Wellington Street
    Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
    Fax: 613-941-6900

    Dear Prime Minister Harper,

    We are writing with a renewed sense of urgency about the case of Bashir Makhtal.  Mr. Makhtal, a Canadian citizen of Ethiopian Ogadeni origin, has been imprisoned in Ethiopia since January 2007 and is serving a life prison term after an unfair trial and appeal.  

    Credible and troubling allegations have now come to Amnesty International’s attention, indicating that he may have been subject to torture and ill-treatment, may have made a confession because of that torture, and is possibly facing a number of serious health problems. 

    Mr. Makhtal has authorized that this information be shared openly and publicly as he hopes it will generate wider understanding of his plight and generate renewed and increased action on his behalf.
    These very worrying reports require immediate attention and action from the Canadian government.  In particular:

    • With increased urgency, we repeat the recommendation that we and Mr. Makhtal’s family have made repeatedly in the past that you intervene personally with your counterpart, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn.
    • We urge that you call on Prime Minister Desalegn to immediately release Bashir Makhtal from prison, because of the concerns about the unfair nature of his trial now compounded by the allegations of torture and ill-treatment.  Any further charges or trial must meet international fair trial standards and must not in any way be associated with torture or ill-treatment.
    • We request that you press for Mr. Makhtal to be given immediate access to an independent doctor so that a full assessment of his health condition can be carried out and so that he can be provided with the care and treatment he requires.  If the health concerns are sufficiently serious, we ask the Canadian government to press for Mr. Makhtal’s release, additionally, on humanitarian medical grounds.
    • We call, finally, on you to request that Ethiopian authorities launch an independent investigation into the allegations of torture and ill-treatment and offer Ethiopian authorities assistance through Canadian investigatory, legal, medical and other experts and resources.

    Throughout his eight years of imprisonment, there have always been concerns about harsh and inhumane prison conditions endured by Mr. Makhtal, and the very real possibility that he has been subjected to torture or ill-treatment.  Those concerns were heightened significantly after Mr. Makhtal’s brother, Hassan Ahmed Makhtal died very soon after he was released from prison for medical reasons in March 2009.  He had been held in prison for 22 months.

    It has, until now, been difficult to investigate or verify these concerns.   Mr. Makhtal does not have private visits with Canadian officials or with family; guards are always present in the visiting area.  He has been fearful and reluctant to provide detailed information during such visits because of the possibility of reprisals for doing so.  He has given some indication to family that he has suffered cruel treatment, but has not given any specifics until now.

    However, during a visit with a family member in early January, 2015, Mr. Makhtal did provide information about torture and ill-treatment he says that he has experienced.  He made it clear to his relative that he was providing this information now because of the hopelessness and frustration he feels about his situation, with no prospects for his release or for any of the serious human rights violations he has experienced to be remedied.

    The information he has provided lays out allegations of torture or ill-treatment in both Kenya and Ethiopia. 

    - Severe beatings at the hands of Kenyan soldiers and guards when he was the subject of extraordinary rendition and was sent from Kenya to Ethiopia, by way of Somalia. This included being kicked, punched and being held down while his face and shoulder were stepped on.  He received a deep cut on his leg which made it difficult for him to walk straight during the early period of his detention in Ethiopia. 

    - Numerous episodes of torture during the months that he was held in incommunicado detention at Maekelawi Prison in Ethiopia. 

    These allegations include:

    • Being beaten head to toe with a stick so severely that the pain would often cause him to fall down.
    • Often beaten with gun butts to cause greater pain.
    • Forced to lean against a wall with his hands tied behind his back and beaten on his exposed side whenever he fell to the ground.
    • Beatings to his testicles on some occasions.
    • Frequently lost consciousness, with difficulties seeing for several days after regaining consciousness.
    • Faced repeated demands to confess to being a member of the Ogaden National Liberation Front during beatings. 
    • Forced in a video recording, with a gun pointed to his head, to confess to involvement in smuggling weapons.
    • Held in an underground cell for several months.

    These are disturbing allegations.  They are consistent with Amnesty International’s research with respect to the nature and use of torture in Ethiopia.  The allegations are also credible in not being over-inflated; for instance clearly noting that the torture has not continued since those first harrowing months.

    Mr. Makhtal has told his relative that he faces a number of painful, even debilitating medical problems at this time.  He has already had surgery for a blood clot in his left leg.  He was not able to use his right shoulder for more than 2 ½ years.  He presently has severe pain and/or restricted movement in his left hip, right shoulder, back and neck.  He has not received attention for those problems.

    Prime Minister, we realize that Canadian officials, including Minister Baird, have been active on Bashir Makhtal’s file for a number of years.  We are also aware that Canadian officials recently negotiated a possible prisoner transfer agreement with Ethiopian authorities, which might have resulted in Mr. Makhtal being transferred to serve his sentence in a Canadian prison.  We have been told that Mr. Makhtal declined that option because it would have necessitated accepting the validity of the charges and the sentence he has received and would have made it impossible for him to apply for any sort of parole release for at least another five years.  His hope and his demand continue to be that he be unconditionally released. 

    We look to you Prime Minister to take up the recommendations for action we have outlined earlier in this letter.  Justice requires nothing less.


    Alex Neve
    Secretary General